LAKE WORTH BEACH, Fla. — Residents of Lake Worth Beach got together to advocate for two of the area's historically Black cemeteries on Tuesday night, forming a human chain around one of them.
"To make it look presentable, safe and secure for our loved ones we have back here," Retha Lowe, one of the organizers, said.
In a recent workshop, they said Commissioner Christopher McVoy suggested putting a chain and a lock across the entrance road.
In response, the group joined arm in arm forming a human chain around I.A. Banks Memorial Park.
They said for years they've been waiting on the city to place proper fencing around I.A. Banks Memorial Park and Pinecrest Cemetery.
"Most of these people you see here have somebody in this graveyard. We've been taking care of our families that's back here," Lowe said. "The city has been neglecting our loved ones. They're not listening. Listen to us."
Lowe said the community does a good job of maintaining and patrolling I.A. Banks Memorial Park, but Pinecrest Cemetery has fallen victim to years of vandalism.
"You have people drinking, throwing trash here on A Street, defecating here. It's not right," activist Hazzler Decime said. "I've seen some markers here as old as the 1800s. It should be a sacred ground."
In attendance was Lake Worth Beach Commissioner Sarah Malega.
"To me, it's a simple ask," Malega said. "We should've done this years ago. We own the cemeteries. It's our responsibility."
She said fencing has been a promise by her predecessor in 2017 and 2018 but it never met budget cuts.
Malega said this year the finance team found money that could be used for fencing in the penny sales tax.
"Why hasn't fencing been able to come here?" WPTV reporter Joel Lopez asked.
"Unfortunately, we have other commissioners who feel we should be having a deeper conversation on social issues and how we can put more programs into place," Malega said. "The commission will have their own voice, but I have the voice of the community and I will always vote on what the community wants and what's right for the entire city of Lake Worth Beach."
She said I.A. Banks Memorial Park is one of the oldest historical cemeteries for the African-American community and that it is on the historical registry.
"That is my history book, my great-grandmother, Mother Mary Davis," Trudy Lowe said as she pointed out multiple generations of ancestors buried in the cemetery. "Look, born 1887. That's a long time."
She joined in on the protest advocating for a better cemetery for her ancestors and generations to come.
"Why is it that so many of your family is buried in this cemetery?" Lopez asked.
"This is my community forever. I'll be here one day," Lowe replied.
The group plans to meet on Thursday at the Lake Worth Beach City Commission meeting, where commissioners plan to make a final reading on the budget.